Catching Spring Reds

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There are more redfish in Texas bay systems than there have been in more than 30 years. In fact, some areas are so thick with reds, anglers have a hard time catching legal-sized fish.

No, I am not talking about catching undersized “rat reds” but oversized bulls. In comparison to the period after the “redfish wars” and freezes of ’83 and ’89, that is a welcomed change.

With spring rolling in this month, most anglers will have their sights set on speckled trout, but for those who prefer reds, there is plenty of action out there along the Texas coast.

Let’s take a look at some of the more exciting opportunities.

Topwater Bonanza

If you can find anything cooler related to Texas inshore fishing than catching a redfish on a topwater plug, call me. I’ll have to see it before I can believe it.

The raw force and determination behind the average redfish strike on a topwater is the kind of thing that keeps many of us spending thousands of dollars a year, getting up at ridiculously early hours, getting sunburned and flat out fatigued when the fishing is good.

The Keith Lake Chain located in Jefferson County near the McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge is a great spot for catching topwater reds this month. My mentor, the late Ed Holder taught me about fishing this hot spot and shared what may be the most important thing to keep in mind for topwater reds.

He said anglers need to be mindful of what he called the redfish “cone of vision.” This is the zone that an angler should try to work around when sight-casting to reds. If a redfish’s head were a clock, its eyes would be at two and ten o’clock. The fish can basically see to four o’clock on the right side and eight o’clock on the left, but five, six and seven o’clock are blind spots.

An angler should always make a point to throw the bait directly in front of the fish or even with its head. The fish may strike at the bait if it hears it hit behind the eyes, but Holder says the combination of seeing and hearing the action of a topwater plug is what will drive a redfish to hit most of the time.

With this in mind, it’s worth noting that it’s almost a miracle of physics for a redfish to strike bait on the surface. The mouth of a red is designed to descend downward to feed on crustaceans on the bottom, not extend outward to gulp up schooling fish.

If you watch closely, you can see the fish turn slightly to the side so they can strike the bait. Either the reds have evolved this ability over the years or nature just goofed up somewhere down the line.

Another interesting note shared by Holder was in regard to the movement of schools of redfish in marshy lakes like those in the Keith Lake Chain. Holder is a veteran airplane pilot. He says that while flying over these areas you can easily make out long mud trails in the water.

These trails denote where schools of redfish are rooting up crabs and small baitfish. By wearing polarized sunglasses and paying attention to subtle changes in water clarity, an angler can make out these trails, and may actually be able to follow the schools.

After late cold fronts move through, redfish schooling activity may be such that almost anyone can find them. When they get to feeding in a frenzy, a school of reds may look more like an emerging submarine than a bunch of fish. In late spring, however, this isn’t always the case, but it can happen

Look for subtle signs. A small mud boil may mean a lone redfish on the prowl. A ripple in the water can lead to a large school of aggressively feeding reds. Think small in early fall to find big numbers of redfish.

Intracoastal Buoys

There are thousands of marker buoys and barnacle encrusted channel marker poles in the Intracoastal and they are good spots to find reds this time of year. These poles make up their own mini ecosystems in much the same way oil and gas platforms do offshore. They are obviously not a pronounced as rigs, but they do draw in fish.

The first thing you need to do is check to see if the poles have many barnacles on them. Those spots are good ones to fish because they are likely to draw in lots of baitfish and crustaceans, which reds, of course, dine on.

In addition, the ones located near shorelines with shell are great places to fish. The markers typically designate where the channel and shallows meet, so setting up between the shell along the shore and the marker puts an angler in a great position.

Chunk one line in the shallows and another in the deep and there is a very good chance you will score on redfish. Live bait such as mud minnows or finger mullet, works good in the spring, but so do crankbaits like Rat-L-Traps or even freshwater plugs like the Bomber 9A.

Mid Coast Oyster

Look for some of the deeper oyster reefs on the Middle Coast in Aransas, Oso and north toward Matagorda Bay to provide some of the best fishing for reds in the early spring. Oyster reefs are loaded with sand eels, which are a key component of their diet this time of year. The general practice while fishing reefs is to make long drifts with the current. A good tip is to use a wind or drift sock to slow down boat movement. A slower drift will make for fewer hang-ups and greater bite detection

Keep in mind that not all oyster reefs are created equal and not all parts of an oyster reef are the same. It is important to look for the structure within structure. An oyster reef is a structure all by itself, but there is structure on top of that structure.

A big clump of oysters rising up on a slight ridge on a reef with an average depth of 10 feet is structure on structure. A sunken boat on a reef is structure on structure.

Norton Sand Eels, Bass Assassins or other eel-imitating lures are obvious choices for lures on these reefs.

I like to use a NO-SNAGG Slip Sinker by Lindy, which works great on oyster reefs. Its unique shape allows it to twist itself free from obstructions where other sinkers cannot. When fishing with it on reefs, slowly raise and lower the rod tip to give the rig a hopping action. It works well with lures, but also is an excellent way of rigging live bait.

Jetty Reds

All of the jetty systems in Texas will hold redfish this month. The action ranges from lukewarm to excellent depending on the presence of cold fronts and tidal flow.

On the passing of late cold fronts, target the eddies that form at the end of jetties. Typically, all jetties have an area at the southern tip where the current washes out a large bowl area. When the tide is strong and in particular when it is going out, eddies form and a lot of the smaller baitfish gather in these spots. Redfish will stack up there and gorge themselves.

Probably the all-around best bait is a live mud minnow (the bigger, the better) hooked through the tail and fished on a drop-shot rig. With the fish hooked through the tail it will swim upward and struggle a lot which draws the attention of the reds. The disadvantage is tail-hooking makes it easier for the red to take the bait without getting hooked, but it tends to draw more strikes. Free-lining a mud minnow with a split-shot rigged six inches above the hook, is also good, but sometimes currents even in the eddies can be such that it’s hard for the bait to get down to the fish.

Another spot to try at the jetties are the boat cuts. They are good on both outgoing and incoming tides, and redfish like to hang out from around 30 to 40 yards outside the cut itself. Live mud minnows or finger mullet fished on the bottom are a good choice, but you might catch a lot of small sharks as they start moving in this month.

For a shark-free experience try a ½-ounce gold spoon dragged across the bottom or slowly trolled against the current. Reds are suckers for gold spoons and will sometimes hit them when they turn up their noses to other offerings.


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